Arunachal mega dam near pilgrimage cleared, environmentalists see red

Environmentalists in adjoining Assam also said the project would severely impact the grasslands of Dibru Saikhowa National Park, home of the only population of feral horses in India

September 28, 2018 11:13 am | Updated September 29, 2018 05:48 pm IST - Guwahati

The Lohit river. A file photo.

The Lohit river. A file photo.

Conservationists on Friday asked the Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife (SC-NBWL) to reverse the clearance for the 1750MW Demwe Lower hydroelectric project in Arunachal Pradesh.

The project’s 124-metre high dam is proposed to be constructed on river Lohit jointly by Athena Energy Ventures and the Arunachal Pradesh government. The project site, greens and local activists say, is extremely close to cultural heritage site Parshuram Kund, a major Hindu pilgrimage.

Lohit is one of three rivers that meet to form the Brahmaputra in Assam downstream.

“I am shocked to see that your committee has granted wildlife clearance to the 1750 MW Demwe Lower project based on a seriously flawed report of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII),” Bimal Gogoi, a conservationist based in Assam’s Golaghat district, said in a letter to SC-NBWL chairman, Dr Harsha Vardhan, also the Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

Junked by NGT

Mr Gogoi had filed an appeal in the National Green Tribunal challenging the 2010 clearance to the project by the environment ministry. He pointed out that the NGT had, in October 2017, cancelled the final forest clearance as the project site was 8.5 km from the Kamlang Wildlife Sanctuary.

As director of Bombay Natural History Society and NBWL member, Asad Rahmani had, in 2014, studied the site and said the project would submerge parts of the Parshuram Kund Medicinal Plant Conservation Area that the Environment Ministry had identified for protecting “globally significant medicinal plants”.

Environmentalists in adjoining Assam also said the project would severely impact the grasslands of Dibru Saikhowa National Park –— home of the only population of feral horses in India — and riverine islands of Lohit river, which Birdlife International identified as Important Bird Area.

New survey

The NGT had sought a peer review of the project, but the ministry commissioned a short study by a WII-led team, which acknowledged downstream concerns while saying upstream submergence would not be much of an ecological issue. The team admitted the site needed to be studied over three seasons, but its survey in February this year took 20 days.

Based on the team’s report in May, the project was cleared at the 50th meeting of SC-NBWL whose minutes were made public on Wednesday. The minutes said that that the wildlife board has accepted the Dehradun-based WII’s report on the rapid ecological assessment of impacts of Lower Demwe project on wildlife.

The WII report said: “In the light of the history of this dam site, wherein the submergence zone has been studied and an environmental impact assessment was approved to give environmental clearance, we feel that the creation/construction of the dam per se would not be critical in undermining the biodiversity values of the region. The submergence zone of the dam is a habitat which is available elsewhere within the region and is not critical for the conservation of any known threatened, endangered or critically endangered species population. This hydroelectric project is run of the river type water which is released. Hence, the amount of river flow quanta is not likely to be altered once the dam is filled and power generation is based on an inflow-outflow regime.”

Hydrologists too have found flaws in the report. “Demwe, like most mega dams in Arunachal Pradesh and elsewhere in the Northeast, is a disaster in the making. For Assam, the disaster could be worse than Kerala’s,” Partha Jyoti Das, a water expert, said.

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